The only Ian McEwan novel I have read in full is Saturday and I found his prose rather tortuous and off putting. I consequently went to see Atonement last night with no more knowledge of the book than that furnished by a brief glance through the opening pages and a read of the synopsis.
Without being able to make a comparative analysis of the film and the text, I cannot comment on whether McEwan’s intentions were being followed, particularly as I understand the author declined to adapt the novel himself. Whether the rather post-apocalyptic rendering of Dunkirk was McEwan’s therefore, somebody may wish to clarify for me.
The anarchic dystopia the film presented, which to my mind was almost reminiscent of Apocalypse Now, hardly rang true as a portrayal of one of the greatest episodes of discipline and national unity in the history of World War 2. I acknowledge that these historical niceties may not have been paramount in the mind of the director. My girlfriend, who has a much more astute critical eye than I do, pointed out that the entire story can only be understood through the prism of the putative author’s imagined narration. I also appreciate McAvoy’s character is in an altered state of consciousness during these scenes and the presentation of what most undoubtedly have been a disorientating and frightening event reflects this.
The film was otherwise engaging, despite the presence of the perpetually smug McAvoy and Kiera Knightley, whose transformation into some manner of exotic, concave alien is almost complete. A changing social landscape, the ravages of war and the relationship between reality and the imaginative process are all themes which are raised and developed successfully. Again, whether these tally with the themes of the book, I am in no position to judge.